POSCO back in the news…

“Now kids lead anti-Posco war screams the TOI headline today.”

The issue is the same:  Land acquisition. The protagonist is the same: The Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti. The form of protest is new: 400 children lying on the ground to stop government  officials from moving in to acquire the disputed land. A new refrain: why should we send our children to school when we are going to lose our land. A serious and potentially violent protest is in the making. The administrative machinery is using its muscle to steam roller wherever they can and the protesters are firm that they will lose neither  face nor land.

Strong, entrenched adversarial stances are fairly standard in India. “Activism” and dedicated NGOs will take on companies who are not willing to see community well-being as integral to any commercial deal they strike with government. Political  involvement particularly of groups opposed to the government of the day is almost a given. Added to the flexing of political muscle is the show of  ‘tough’ by the local administration and law enforcement machinery: heartless, corrupt, negligent by and large. Beating up locals is routine. Conniving with politicians is expected. Co-opting local thugs is a done deal. And into this tumultuous mix enters the MNC!! No wonder they are scared of coming up front to say anything. How are they to know who they will antagonize? Both media and NGOs prefer to remain sceptical and uncooperative when it comes to listening to a corporate viewpoint. Why? Because business every where is still viewed as a heartless exploiter. It is assumed that MNCs wanting to be part of this country will only protect their own interests and not that of the local community. Why not? These are the same companies that make corporate responsibility commitments to the poor around the world.

In India today there is a new kind of competition between state governments to see who can attract the largest amount of foreign investment. And this competition it is clear is as brutal as any in the corporate world. And once again who suffers the most in this fight? The poor and the deprived. And the end beneficiaries of this struggle almost always prefer to stay in the background watching and waiting. What is their real corporate responsibility in these cases?

There are normally two parts to almost all local protests, particularly in vastly under developed areas of India. One is the value at which land is purchased by the government, particularly when there are natural resources under the earth or on it. And the second is the issue of livelihoods. Neither should be intractable in this age and time but both have become sticking points for all parties concerned.

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